As our technology changes, the challenge of storing data and later accessing original records gets more complicated. We’ve been using paper for thousands of years. But how long have we been maintaining records as PDF files?
After transferring information from a tape to 8-inch floppy, to 3-inch floppy, to a memory stick, are we really dealing with an original document? If the content has been pasted from WordPerfect to MS Word, how can we be certain the information hasn’t been modified?
What happens to the information’s status when the software goes through an upgrade from version 2.4 to version 2.5? When can electronic scanned versions of paper documents even be considered “official” records, for the purposes of legal trials, financial audits?
These questions aren’t exactly new, but given the rapid multiplication of hardware and software technology for storing information, they’ve become awfully important.
Individuals and organizations can have professional or legal obligations to store records for five, 10, 50… sometimes 100 years. It affects financial institutions, insurance agents, investment brokers, law enforcement professionals, any kind of company, homeowners… OK, pretty much everyone.
There is an awfully cumbersome solution to the problem. Save every record in its original format. Keep every version of software you’ve ever used. Keep all the hardware you need to display it.
But of course, if you’re going to keep all that stuff, you’ll need to know how to use it. Do you remember how to use WordStar, XyWrite, Sprint (if you never heard of these go on Wikipedia)? Will anyone know how to use it 50 years from now to access original documents?
After all, if no one knows how to use the technology to access the information, all that dusty hardware you’ve kept in your closet for the fateful day when you need the original record of your insurance contract or business partnership agreement… is worthless.
So, what’s the solution? Do we fight a losing battle to keep all the geezers (not the one from Black Sabath) alive as long as possible so we can run Windows XP in 2058?
Data storage isn’t just about filing your documents away and forgetting them. It requires long-term planning. Right now, every upgrade and new development in software and hardware is just taking us further into uncharted territory with no record to show us the way.
If anyone thinks they've got an idea for the way ahead on this critical problem, I'd be glad to hear your thoughts.
Vaclav Vincalek February 24th, 2008 05:48:32 PM